Monday, March 30, 2009

MP3 Monday: Centipede Eest

Posted By on Mon, Mar 30, 2009 at 3:28 PM

Sorry for the delay, folks -- it's still Monday, though, and thus not too late for MP3 MONDAYYYY.

This week's band is Centipede Eest, aka Centipede E'est, aka Centipede East, aka Centipede. Last fall, I wrote these dudes up for their newest release, Confluence. We discussed whether or not they're a jam band, and talked about their collaborations with other local musicians -- check it out here.

The track we're posting is an alternate version of "Stingray." Download it here!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Local release heads-up: Auryn

Posted By on Thu, Mar 26, 2009 at 5:04 PM

Just a quick FYI, a band that we weren't able to cram into the paper this week, Auryn, releases their debut album tonight. Auryn's an old-school political metalcore band who are all about environmentalism and direct action -- fans of, say, the first facedowninshit LP might be interested, eh? (Though they have more of an "epic" thing going on and less of a "stoner" thing.) Check 'em out here.

Tonight's show is at the Mr. Roboto Project and also features locals Onodrim (with one of whom I previously shared a band, in the interest of full disclosure), Protestant, and the epic UK band Fall of Efrafa.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

SXSW Day 3: Scots and Saints

Posted By on Wed, Mar 25, 2009 at 8:33 AM

One thing about music conferences that's always a bit surprising to me is how few of the musicians playing them in hopes of being "discovered" bother going to the daytime panel discussions -- panels led by the very people they hope will discover them. They'll show up and play their evening showcase, but not avail themselves of the professional opportunities -- and SXSW seems no different in that regard. Sure, there are usually a lot of people milling about in the conference center, but compared to the many thousands of musicians playing the fest, there's practically no one here.

Case in point: a demo listening seminar on Friday afternoon, led by Lawrence Gelburd, a Philadelphia-based music producer who I'd met before at Harrisburg's Millennium Music Conference. Attendees put their demos in a box, which were pulled out at random, played for 1-2 minutes, at which point the four producers on the panel offered constructive criticism and asked questions. Continue for about 90 minutes.

It's certainly not the most glamorous way to spend the afternoon, especially when the Australian government is offering free booze, barbecue and bands just across the street. Which is probably why there were maybe 30 people in the room for the panel. But I did see some new acts get hooked up with producers who were interested in working with them, which seems ultimately more exciting.

The trade show is another aspect that can be overlooked. Sure, it's a bit square - demos of music gear you probably can't afford and that's not released yet, and awkward conversations with spokespeople. But I signed up to win a lot of music gear, learned about some new band management/organizational software, and ran into Jason Stollsteimer and Don Blum of The Von Bondies, making the rounds of the booths, and from what I could tell, walking out with some serious loot. (As a teen-ager in Michigan, my first real writing assignment was a CD review of Blum's old sci-fi punk band Mazinga, for Ann Arbor Current.)

The night's music started out with a tromp down to La Zona Rosa, a large club on the outskirts of SXSW, for the Scottish Arts Council showcase. The openers, enthusiastic young band We Were Promised Jetpacks, seemed ecstatic with the large crowd they played to. "Back home, nobody gives a fuck," the singer crowed. I briefly considered just parking it at La Zona Rosa for the night, in that the rest of the lineup included Danananananykroyd, Camera Obscura, The Proclaimers, Glasvegas (who'd I'd failed at seeing the first night) and Primal Scream. One could certainly do worse ... but it was time to check in with some folks from back home.

Walking in the door of the Tap Room at Six, the first thing I noticed is that I'd been here before: It's where I saw Black Tie Revue (R.I.P.) play their SXSW showcase two years ago. The second thing I notice is Michael Kastelic of The Cynics, checking out the performance by The Ugly Beats, along with Gregg and Barbara of the Pittsburgh-based Get Hip label.

Emily Rodgers and her band were hanging out in the back room, seeming a bit overwhelmed yet energized by the maelstrom raging outside. Rodgers had already played one show today, solo, in a nearby bookstore. Tonight's showcase is for Misra, the label that recently signed her.

As her band kicked off the first song, Rodgers stood almost completely still, her eyes often closed, sometimes glancing down at a music stand. As she sang the chorus, "everything is better when you're around," I was reminded most of Canadian singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards. Throughout the set, the band maintained a fairly slow, loping pulse, with lonesome, echoing guitars that built toward an explosive, raging finale. Get Hip's Gregg Kostelich seemed genuinely pleased and surprised by Rodgers (perhaps even a bit regretful that he didn't sign her?).

After Rodgers' set, it was time for me to hit the roadhouse-style club Antone's, an Austin landmark, where I caught Portland singer-songwriter Mirah as well as St. Vincent (a.k.a. Annie Clark), performing new material from the forthcoming follow-up to her excellent album Marry Me. St. Vincent's performance proved as fascinating and complex as I remembered from a previous show, but the setup time for all the electronics and instruments was interminable. Compounding the problem was that, all around me, doofus guys kept up an unceasing chorus of "Marry me, Annie!" An interesting update on the traditional cat-call, true -- but still, you don't want to be that dude.

Monday, March 23, 2009

MP3 Monday: Beware Fashionable Women

Posted By on Mon, Mar 23, 2009 at 1:39 PM

Beware Fashionable Women is the power-pop alias of Barak Shpiez, a Pittsburgh-based musician and audio engineer who has spent the last year working in Los Angeles. Sean Collier reviewed the debut album from BFD in December:

"[T]wo of the album's ten tracks are particularly memorable: the harmony soaked, Beach Boys-style "I'll Be the DJ" and the careful yet infectious "Found." Both of those tracks are catchy, creative and hold up well to repeat listens. An album full of songs this good would be irresistible."

Beware Fashionable Women: "I'll Be the DJ"

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Friday, March 20, 2009

South By Southwest, Day 2: Commerce and Church

Posted By on Fri, Mar 20, 2009 at 5:38 PM

There's the oft-quoted William Burroughs line that "Kerouac opened a million coffee bars and sold a million pairs of Levi's to both sexes." The marketing department at Levi's has figured out that rock 'n' roll moves plenty of denim as well, hence the Levi's Fader Fort. Located on the other side of the train tracks from the central SXSW conference sites, and its own separate entity, the Fort is an large enclosure with multiple stages that manages to also incorporate a full Levi's store. The fact that you can see many of the SXSW bands perform during the day, in more of a party atmosphere -- and without an expensive official credential -- is very attractive. It also means means long lines to get in, but it can be worth it.

Case in point: The Handsome Furs, who offered a short, explosive set at the Fort yesterday. The husband-and-wife Canadian duo combined Clashy guitar (him), distorted programmed beats and synths (her) and dueling vocals that offered plenty of energy without making you feel like you'd checked your brain at the door. All this bodes well for the Handsome Furs upcoming show at Brillobox, on March 31. (The fact that it doesn't seem to be showing up on the Furs' MySpace schedule doesn't look quite as good, though.)

The highlight of the evening shows for me was Grizzly Bear, who filled the cavernous Central Presbyterian Church with their majestic vocal harmonies. I never realized that sitting in a pew for an hour or so in respectful silence, before heading back out into the mayhem, could be so refreshing -- is this what people go to church on Sunday for? I also checked out bands from the Secretly Canadian/Jagjaguwar/Dead Oceans family of labels, including These Are Powers, who recently played the Lava Lounge. The band Foreign Born, in particular, seemed much improved (and with an expanded lineup) over the last time I saw them, opening for St. Vincent at the Andy Warhol Museum. (Which reminded me that one of the things I need to do tonight is see St. Vincent again ...)

This weekend, I'll get to check in with some of the local Pittsburgh bands playing down here, and see how first timers are navigating this massive music blowout. For me, anyway, the second time through feels very different than the apocalyptic rush of being thrust into it without knowing what you're in for. To get an idea of what that experience can be like -- and probably is, for first-timers like Kim Phuc guitarist Eli Kasan, and singer-songwriter Emily Rodgers, for example -- is in my feature story from SXSW 2007.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

South By Southwest, Day 1: Asleep at the Wheel

Posted By on Thu, Mar 19, 2009 at 12:20 PM

For many of us from Pittsburgh, including punk band Kim Phuc and poster artist Mike Budai, this year's South By Southwest festival started off on a brutal note: A 5:30 a.m. boarding at the Pittsburgh International Airport. Most, like Kim Phuc bassist Corey Lyons, hadn't slept at all -- a rough start to nearly a week of rock 'n' roll, parties, beer, and walking the length and breadth of Austin, Tex. several times a day. It did feel like a worthy start to an adventure, though, and the blinding sunlight and balmy temperatures that greeted us in Austin made it feel already worthwhile.

After retrieving my credentials at the convention center and meeting up with the friends who are hosting me here in Austin, it was time to hit the first day party. The day parties in Austin are typically unofficial events -- not part of SXSW proper -- sponsored by various corporations and music-related businesses. The one I started with was A Breath of Fresh Air, an outdoor, wind-powered showcase of indie bands at the Threadgills venue, sponsored by PR companies Organic Entertainment and September Gurl.

As the boy-girl duo KaiserCartel began their set, with drums, acoustic guitar, glockenspiel and folky vocal harmonies, I spotted famed Austin singer-songwriter Alejandro Escovedo, leaving the club and making his way out to an enormous pickup truck. KaiserCartel's set was just about perfect for the outdoor, garden-like venue and a couple of frosty late-afternoon Lonestar brews. Kaisercartel played Brillobox in February, and should be returning to Pittsburgh in the next couple of months, according to their publicist (no date is posted online yet). But by the time The Damnwells started their set, it felt like time to move a long -- there are priorities, after all.

Later last night, my friend Csaba Toth (another Pittsburgher, who's shooting some photos at SXSW) and I decided that, if all else fails, we must see the Scottish band Glasvegas. A showcase they were playing, with Peter, Bjorn and John and The Von Bondies seemed about perfect, so we got in early (and got to meet Bjorn Yttling, who was friendly and cool). Unfortunately, PB&J's set was plagued with technical problems, and never quite got rolling. At least, that's what I can remember of it: I'd underestimated the cumulative effects of no sleep, travel, walking and sun exposure, and was falling asleep on the shoulders of people next to me in the club. Ah well, sometimes you have to cut your losses and try tomorrow.

Speaking of tomorrow, I'll be posting updates from SXSW daily, so keep checking back -- especially as I'll be heading to a number of showcases for the Pittsburgh-based musicians playing this year.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A memory // Rick Gribenas

Posted By on Wed, Mar 18, 2009 at 1:57 PM

I mentioned in this space last week the dire financial situation of local sound artist Rick Gribenas's family as he was undergoing treatment for Hodgkin's lymphoma; yesterday morning, Rick passed away. I knew Rick as a friend, not as close as some, but close enough to have spent a good bit of time with him over the past five or so years since we first met. I offer this as a personal memory of Rick as a friend and an artist -- by no means comprehensive, and intentionally so, it's simply a recollection of the man and the impact he had on me and those around me.

I first encountered Rick when he was playing collaborative shows with a band, He Taught Me Lies, which a few friends of mine were in. HTML was a scrappy three-piece punk band that lasted from the early '00s until a year or two ago when one member moved out of town; their music, heartfelt and loud, was far from high art. Rick dealt with concepts of space and ideas of social interaction in his sound art. It wasn't a match most folks would have dreamt, a bleeping-blooping laptop artist with a cacophonous '90s-style emo core band. But it's precisely the type of work that characterized Rick: something outside the norm, performance in which his conceptual art perhaps interfered with the environment around it (a punk show) but the environment also pushed back against his art.

Setting up in dusty DIY performance spaces with a few sweaty guys playing fast songs about hating capitalism and the death penalty might have been risky for someone whose work gained notice in Artforum and at the Museum of Modern Art, but that wasn't of concern to Rick; these were his friends, and this was the kind of art he was making. If he was cognizant of the strange juxtaposition, he never let on. Hardcore was no less art -- or at least no less important -- to him than John Cage.

That -- more than his oeuvre, more than the scholarly work he leaves behind -- is the legacy that Rick Gribenas left for me. He, seemingly effortlessly, was what I've often hoped, and often have failed, to be: someone who can live up to his greatest artistic and intellectual potential yet not once come off as dismissive of work or interests less sophisticated. Rick had standards, as an artist, musician, and recording engineer, to be sure. I remember him arriving once at the house where I used to live, back in Pittsburgh for a visit while he lived in Chicago, and before he even set down his bags he was pointing out to us that the record player was out of calibration. He said it in such a bemused manner, like it was completely obvious, but to the rest of us, it was a problem that was barely audible. His ear was plenty well-trained, but I can't remember him ever having unkind words for another musician.

Rick's sounds were abstract and ranged from ambient to truly harsh (such as the noise he produced with Antennacle, his band with Bastard Noise's Eric Wood and Creation Is Crucifixion's Nathan Martin). He thrived on surprising his audience and, when given the chance, would place speakers in unexpected spots within the performance space so as to catch listeners off guard and garner in them a greater awareness of the space they were in. While some harsh noise artists take an interest in offending the audience and playing up their misery as part of their art, Rick never did -- his trip was contemplation, and the pleasant surprise.

At times his music betrayed frustration and disappointment with the world as it was. When Rick's father, a photographer with the armed forces, was about to leave for Afghanistan, Rick performed at a rock show, unleashing a piece that was cacophonous, hellish, a collage of some of the most evocative and terrifying sounds one can imagine. I told him at the time that it reminded me of the war montage in Godard's 2004 film Notre Musique -- perhaps showing my complete lack of tact in the face of someone who was about to see his father off to a war zone. But I stand by the assessment; the piece was chilling, understandably. Around the time his father returned last year, I saw Rick perform again, and after assuring us all that he would be playing something "kind of chill," he set loose a variation on the same piece, slightly subdued, but still piecing together all the horrors that surely inhabited his mind as he dealt with a parent facing the stresses and risks of wartime service.

Last fall, I remember attending a gallery opening for an exhibit at Pittsburgh Filmmakers that Rick and his collaborator from Chicago, Todd Mattei, had put together. Rick's installation involved sound, a video loop projected on one wall, and a small string of LED lights on the floor. It was, like much of Rick's art (visual or sound), slightly befuddling, but also whimsical -- complicated and conceptual, but aesthetically welcoming to the untrained mind (like my own). I recall telling Rick that I liked the LED lights, that they were "cute." I immediately remembered that I was talking to a critically acclaimed artist, and that "cute" was likely not his goal, really, so I began to fumble, noting that this is precisely why I don't write about art. Rick stroked his chin and said, quite genuinely, "Cute, eh? I'll accept cute."

It was a familiar sentiment he expressed to me -- the same one that came across when he gave a boyish chuckle as he noticed I wore a dress shirt with Dickies work pants to his wedding. What might seem gauche to some was to Rick, despite his innate aesthetic sensibilites and sense of style, cute, and funny. The recurring idea was simple: it's good to think a lot and to try hard at what interests you, but don’t forget to take it easy and enjoy yourself.

Rick leaves behind his wife, Charissa, and her adorable son, Jaden. They still could use financial support from whatever source they might find, as the costs of treatment have now been compounded by the costs of a funeral. As of right now, there's a benefit show planned to help them out at ModernFormations Gallery on April 11. If any changes arise, I'll post them here. It's still possible to donate to the family via Paypal here.

He also leaves behind a city full of young artists and musicians who he's touched with his art and his affable personality, and I hope that his combination of intellectual curiosity and personal warmth is a legacy that will take root in all of us who knew him. So long, friend.

Monday, March 16, 2009

MP3 Monday: Good Night, States

Posted By on Mon, Mar 16, 2009 at 9:40 AM

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A year ago, Good Night, States released their debut album, Short Films On Self Control, and I wrote a feature on them, calling it "a notch above most everything similar that's being released locally at this point." I stand by that assessment, and the regular internet releases GN,S has been producing since then have lived up to the billing. They've been playing locally and throughout the northeast on a regular basis and getting some buzz -- I wouldn't be surprised if one of the freshest local indie pop bands ended up with some label support before the year is out. In the meantime, check out one of their internet singles, "Sometimes I See You On the Lawn," our MP3 Monday download:

Good Night, States: Sometimes I See You On the Lawn

Friday, March 13, 2009

Where are all the music blogs?

Posted By on Fri, Mar 13, 2009 at 3:05 PM

Elsewhere in the country, the problem is an overstock of music blogs -- everyone and her brother is posting MP3's and chattering about the alleged contents of the possibly-legit leaked track list of the forthcoming Wolfdeer EP or whatever. Here in Pittsburgh -- seemingly not so much. I can think of one or two music blogs beyond this and the other fulltime publication in town. On the flip side, there are a hundred thousand blogs on local politics (though those have been falling with regularity of late, so I shouldn't speak too soon).

So what's the problem? Is it just that I live under a blogrock? Or do we in Pittsburgh have no time for such pithy stuff? Is it that we're satisfied with the handful of music-scene-based forums that exist, and don't feel a need to create blogs in addition?

Obviously, I don't know the answer, or else my post title wouldn't have a question mark in it. I'd be interested in knowing what you, gentle (well, okay, probably slightly aggressive) reader, think. Do you have a local music blog that I just don't know about? Do you have a good reason not to? Should music blogs transcend geographic limitations, thus rendering this question moot?

Do feel free to post in the comments and tell me what's up.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Helping a friend in need

Posted By on Wed, Mar 11, 2009 at 1:16 PM

Musicians are a charitable lot, especially in smaller scenes like that in Pittsburgh. So it's no surprise that when local music-scene-types found out that uber-sound-artist genius Rick Gribenas was in a position of need due to health problems. Rick, whom I've known for some years now, is a Pittsburgher who's gotten some seriously acclaim in the international art world for his sound, visual and installation art. He also is afflicted with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, and is unable to work and has no health insurance; insurance, given a pre-existing condition the like of what Rick has, is exorbitant. The medical bills in his house have piled up, and he and his wife and her son are in dire straits as a result.

Here's where the fellow musicians -- and you -- come in. Folks over at the nevertellmetheodds message board, which hosts discussion that's occasionally pertinent to the local DIY scene, took it upon themselves to set up a Paypal fund to help out the Hamilton/Gribenas family. If you click here, you can find a slightly more detailed account of the issue, and a link to donate to the fund. It's a tough time for a lot of us, but every little bit helps, and it's definitely tougher for this family than most. They sure don't deserve the hand they've been dealt, and it's nice to be able to do some small part to help out.

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